I’ve written in other places about my desire to have children, more specifically, a daughter. It was the thing I wanted most from life. I had my daughter when I was 23, newly sober, newly married, newly graduated from college. That was 23 years ago.
The other day I was recounting the story of how she was born, and I told the people I was talking to that she cried solid for three months, and then she was a doll. For the next eleven years. Then it got ugly.
I’ve had challenges with her, and at times it’s been frightening. It has to be one of the most awful of human experiences to feel that your child is not safe, is not OK, may not make it. I have had moments and days like that with her.
One blessing of the program has been my automatic gratitude response, and the way I always look for how it’s not that bad, it could be worse, so matter what “it” is. Working with people with disabilities has humbled me as far as parenting goes. There was a period of time during which I had to leave work early every day to pick Erika up and take her to a specialized therapy. I felt bad for myself during that time. Not horribly, not constantly, but I did feel it. Every day when I walked to my car, someone else was going out the back door of my building at the same time. A man, a father, would bring his son to our program every day. He stayed with his son throughout the day, then took him back home. The man lifted his 21 year old son out of the wheelchair and lovingly put him in the car. He then folded up the wheelchair, put that in the car, and drove away.
What I was doing for my daughter could not compare. I had every hope that Erika would recover completely from what was ailing her. Of course we are never free and clear as far as any human being is concerned, and tragedies happen without warning all the time. But the parents of the people I work with have no hope that their children will recover or ever be independent. There is no end in sight to their worry and care-giving. The young man I am writing about passed away at the age of 22. I think of his father often.
Last night, at a meeting, a woman told her story who we have known for ten years. During these past ten years, her daughter has experienced many of the same issues as Erika, but on a more severe level. Her daughter is older than Erika, and in her adult life thus far, she has needed her parents many times and has not always functioned well enough to keep herself safe. We were able to tell our friend that Erika graduated from college in May, and has taken a job, and starts the job Monday. She has done well in school, and saved money, and bought a car to drive to her new job.
Our friend said to me, as we were saying goodbye, something like, “You’ve got a real success story going there.”
OK, my ego is something I still need to work on. The topic of the meeting had been “How do you stay happy?” Or something like that. I talked about reworking the steps again, and trying to go deeper and be more complete with them. I thought she was talking about ME.
Um, no, she meant my daughter. A success story that, as a mother, is more precious to me than my own.
How do I handle success? With a grain of salt. I was recounting the successful Erika story to a group of friends, and I said I would just sigh and enjoy and be happy for a minute, until the next bad thing happens. Because I know it will, as long as I’m alive.
Things to look out for. Arrogance – it is by luck and chance that I am Erika’s mother and not the mother of the young man I described or the mother of some young person who is being arrested right this instant. I have to make sure I don’t think this successful mode is my only mode, that I’m on a roll or something. Life still happens. This too shall pass. I have to make sure I don’t demand or expect too much from Erika, also that I don’t treat her success as an illusion or exception.
Things to cultivate. I need to remember that the very awful times passed to become this wonderful time. I have to give credit to all the people who made this possible – Erika, Carole, Nicholas, my mother, Erika’s grandparents, the pastor of the church, many of her friends and teachers, my friends who counseled me, Carole’s friends who counciled her, professionals who worked with Erika.
There’s something else I’ll have to think about. In my rotating prayer thingy, I’ve been writing out aspects of humility. One is treating success as a responsiblity to do more for others. I want to give that some thought. Right now I don’t know how to apply it.